J.R.R. Tolkien created a world that is loved by millions around the world. Turbine has re-created his world for us to play in. Turbine's rendition of Middle Earth is a much awaited game that has many on the edge of their seats. Is it as good as our imaginations?
Actors, take your places!
In the grand scheme of the story, you the player are not the hero. The heroes from the books are still in place, you don't replace them. The player's place in the overall story is that of a supporting role. You are the Free Peoples. All of the unsung heroes and the supporting troops, that is us, the players.
As you go through the quests the story of individuals and yourself will unfold. Your part in the world may seem small in comparison to others, such as Frodo and Samwise, but your story will be just as important.
Graphics - Mesmerised by Details
To anyone who has read the books, the world of Middle Earth looks a certain way. Turbine had a task to collect what Tolkien had described in his books and combine it with what people see in their minds and build it into a digital world.
From the first moment you step a digital foot into the lands of Middle Earth, your eye will be drawn to the detail around you. The architecture, the flora, the people: it all floods you visually as you explore the world around you. The interpretation of the world from the books has been looked at in detail and translated into an electronic world. As you travel you will come across many a location that is in the book and a few you may not have known existed.
The world around you isn't the only thing to look at though. The clothes, weapons and people are all things that help the world come alive. Again the developers and artists have put together what was in the books along with their imaginations to come up with some stunning representations of what Tolkien put into his books.
Sound - My Master's Voice
For the ambient music Turbine went the extra mile. Throughout the game you will find the original scores created by Turbine themselves for Lord of the Rings Online. The time and care that has been put into the ambient music is obvious. It is unobtrusive, fitting and helps to set the tone and mood of the area you have entered. The music doesn't constantly play though fortunately. As you wander the world you will also hear the natural sounds of the world around you. Walking through the forest you will hear the sounds of bird and the rustle of tree leaves. This balance between world sounds and ambient music helps keep things from getting boring or repetitive.
The other sounds we hear constantly and often notice the most are those of the creatures and ourselves. When in a fight the creatures will make appropriate sounds that fit their creature type and ones that are dependant on what kind of action they're doing. For example, a bear will roar at you and you'll hear it as well as feel its affects. While engaged in a fight you will make sounds appropriate to your actions; a grunt here, a yell there. If you're doing a lot of hunting these sounds could easily get boring and repetitive, but if you mix up what you're doing you shouldn't have any problems.
Character - Twinkle in Her Eye
At character creation you have the option of four races; Man, Elf, Hobbit and Dwarf. For each race you have the option of playing both male and female except for dwarfs. Dwarfs don't have any sex specified to them, so your chosen sex can be up to you. After you've chosen your race you will have the option to choose your class. Turbine has created a small twist on the classes and made them just a little less standard and maybe a little more interesting. The classes available are Burglar, Captain, Champion, Hunter, Lore-Master and Minstrel. All of the races can be Minstrels, Guardians or Hunters. Additionally Dwarves can also be Champions, Man can be Captains, Burglars, Champions and Lore-Masters, Elves can be Lore-Masters and Champions and Hobbits can be Burglars. After you have chosen your race and class you get to continue on to the aesthetic customisations. Along with the standard eyes, hair, skin options, you can also select which region you are from. Depending on the region you choose, some of your options, such as skin, eye and hair colour options. The cosmetic options aren't brilliant and are rather basic, but they suffice.
Besides your class, the other career defining option you'll need to choose is your crafting vocation. You have a choice of seven vocations, each with 3 skills.
Each of the crafting skills that accompany the vocations allows you to completely or partially fulfil your vocation. Many of the vocations rely on others in order to be efficient and allow completion. The way the vocations have been put together encourages player interaction and also should help to create a good economy of selling materials for crafting so that interaction isn't forced and truly becomes optional.
To round out your character you have skills and traits. Skills are bought as you gain levels in your chosen class. Whenever you gain a new level in your class all you need to do is visit your class trainer and purchase any new skills available. You'll have the option to buy both active and passive skills. Passive skills are 'always on' attributes that enhance your character or allow him to do something new. Active skills are attributes that you are able to activate under specific situations or conditions, depending on the skill.
Traits are similar to skills, only with a slight twist. As you advance through the game, you will earn traits. These are special attributes you earn by completing Accomplishments. Accomplishments are deeds that consist of several types of tasks, such as visiting locations and killing a certain type of creature. When you finish some Accomplishments you earn Traits. There are 4 types of traits, Virtues, Race, Class and Legendary. Traits are additional attributes to further customise your character to make it that just a little bit different.
Combat -The blade, it's glowing blue!
As with any MMO, combat plays an important part in Lord of the Rings Online. The skills you learn will help you in your combat situations. LotRO has as direct specific combat system. Meaning where you are in relation to what you're fighting matters. Combat is fast paced and exciting, even if you're soloing. When you enter combat your skills will activate depending on their specific factors for use, such as distance and area of effect. This system encourages team play and forward thinking in how you approach combat depending on the class you have chosen for your character.
Throughout the game you will find quests to advance your character in levels and to learn a bit more about the world and its inhabitants. Quests vary from the standard 'kill x number of creatures and return to me' to complex chains of quests that require you to go through multiple steps in order to complete them. All of them though have a bit of story to carry them through. Even the most menial task has meaning. Because of this quests rarely get boring and always tell some piece of the larger story. Currently there are several thousand quests available throughout the regions to be completed. So the problem of everyone having done all the same quests is less of a problem than it is in other games. It is possible though to advance without doing many or any quests. While it can be slower, it is still possible, making quests a completely optional part of gameplay.
Along with fighting monsters, you can actually become a monster in Lord of the Rings Online. LotRO has a non-standard system of player versus player content like none other. Instead of fighting each other, you are able to take on the roll of one of the monsters. Once you have reached level 10 you are able to create a monster character by locating a Fell Scrying Pool. When you interact with the Fell Scrying Pool you will be able to create one of the pre-defined monsters at level 50. The monsters currently available are Orc Reaver, Spider Weaver, Uruk Warleader and Warg Stalker. Each has their own place in a fight and can be used just as a normal character would be in most ways. Like hero character you can complete deeds and quests, but instead of experience points you gain destiny points. These points can then be spent to buy skills to improve your monster character. Destiny points can also be spent to improve your hero temporarily.
Map - This is my World
Currently the world only encompasses Eriador. This includes Bree-Land, Ered Luin, Ettenmoors, Lone-Lands, Misty Mountains, North Downs, The Shire and Trollshaws. While this may seem like a small piece of Middle Earth, there are already plans to expand on these available areas in the near and distant future. These areas all have their own unique details and landmarks and are full of content ready for you to explore.
The communities are unfortunately split up by location. There are two sets of servers, EU and US. The US servers are being handled by Turbine themselves, while the EU servers are being handled by Codemasters. This has of course split the community into two separate groups. Fortunately both communities are helpful, mature and friendly generally. No matter which side of the Atlantic you're on, you can experience the fun of Tolkien's world in a nice social environment.
Overall Lord of the Rings Online is a very good game in its current incarnation. There is much to do and plenty to explore. The game itself can be run on a very large variety of computers with specifications varying from basic to the most advanced. The client itself is very stable and will be familiar to many who have played other Turbine games. Turbine has done a good job to create a world that is fun to be in and represents the Tolkien very well in most aspects. The future looks bright for Lord of the Rings Online. It will be an interesting game to watch in the coming months and hopefully years.
* Editor's Note: This article was originally posted as a Review of LotRO, for an explanation of the change in category, please see this news item.